THE BLOG

Why PMQs Must Go

03/03/2014 00:15 GMT | Updated 02/05/2014 10:59 BST

Midday Wednesday: Kyiv. Atop the glass dome of the Ukrainian Rada, a flagpole stands unadorned, it's Soviet star having been removed. In the centre of the city, revolutionaries huddle in small groups amongst the remains of the barricades. Their stories are of success and of loss, of pitched battles against riot police, against tear gas, against bullets.

On the streets, they now begin to realise what they have achieved - that they have become the living and fluid Eastern border of political Europe. What was once a clear physical divide between the behemoths of Political Europe in the West and Russia in the East now rests on the shoulders of these few, as it once did on those in Georgia, Berlin, Prague and Hungary.

In Moscow, Vladimir Putin, orders the forces of Russia's Western Military District, including veterans of the South Ossetia Conflict, the 76th Airborne Division, onto high alert. In Washington, the news is met with nervous resignation. Both British and American Secretaries of State agree that on some level, it appears an old battle will be refought on the shoulders of those in Kyiv's independence square.

Meanwhile, in London, the Prime Minister crosses from his office in Downing Street to the Palace of Westminster and readies himself for his weekly confrontation with the Leader of the Opposition. At precisely 12, Big Ben strikes, the Speaker of the House rises to his feet and British Politics commences the process of devouring its young. Prime Minister's Questions has begun.

This week, PMQs took place to the backdrop of the revolution in Ukraine and, following a massive governmental error, the collapse of the trial of a man accused of detonating car bomb on the streets of London. Odd then that its highlights appeared to be the Prime Minister accusing Ed Miliband of "turning up in a flooded village with a Labour Candidate" and Ed Miliband accusing the Energy Minister of having in the past said he "hadn't had time to get into the climate change debate". Both lines were well received by their respective MPs and as such elicited the unique and trademark noise of PMQs, the sound of 200 or so MPs (mainly men) who would not allow their children to do the same, bellowing like the more unfortunate cattle swept away in the floods which were the supposed topic of the line of questioning. On all sides of the Chamber, heads were shook, papers wafted and accusatory glares shared.

What is damming is that bar one or two exceptions, Prime Minister's Questions is exactly the same every week. It is not that it never deals with the serious issues of the day - it does, it is just when these occasional days occur, the result is a solemn affair that journalists and MPs agree is disappointing. Indeed, such a PMQs only really occurs when there is no other choice remaining.

The reason for this is that it is many years since high politics, the debate over issues, or scrutiny were the real purpose of PMQs. In their place the aims have become personal and political one-upmanship and the desire to deride an opponent whilst receiving sycophantic support from your own side. Within this charade, the prime minister and the Leader of the Opposition take the interchangeable roles of playground bully and victim. Like all bullies, they often have much to lose and are egged on by those who can lose little.

The effect is that PMQs has become the sharpest taste of the sickly bile that has reduced engagement in British politics to a minority pursuit. What is odd is that MPs, a group of people usually so concerned by their own public image, seem not to have noticed.

To most people, the reason for this is clear. MPs are not normal people, they don't behave normally and have different moral codes and different perceptions of reality to the rest of the public.

The problem with this argument is that anyone who has spent time with individual MPs, either professionally or as a member of the electorate, will tell you that with few notable examples, it is simply not true. Political views aside, MPs are overwhelmingly normal, decent people who sacrifice much to have some attempt at improving the society in which they live. If the Country had more people like MPs, it would be better off, not worse.

The question is therefore why, during the only half hour block a week when they can be guaranteed to get on television en masse, do MPs allow themselves to behave in a way which alienates the majority of the public who see them? It is to everyone's detriment that the overriding message PMQs sends to the public is - "MPs aren't like you and therefore politics isn't for you."

There are of course other causes of political disengagement. However, given that television channels give MPs half an hour each Wednesday to show the Country why engagement in politics is important, considering the message Parliament sends during this half an hour would be a good place to start in tackling a mounting problem. Of all people, politicians should appreciate the importance of crafting a message and narrative that the public can buy into.

For this reason, PMQs in its current form has long become a drag on British politics rather than an asset. Like the Changing of the Guard, it is a ceremonial relic and should be reserved solely for tourists. If not, or if reform is unachievable, then we should go the whole way in pursuit of Parliamentary drama and replace PMQs on television with a pure slapstick representation of Parliament, in which actors playing politicians hurl fruit at each other across the despatch box. It could scarcely be worse for our democracy.

Back in Russia, the elite 76th Airborne division hone their rifle sights. In Kyiv, the crowds linger.